Avian Flu Cases Surging: Are You at Risk?

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There has been much discussion in the medical world regarding Avian Influenza, also known as the bird flu, of late. You may or may not have heard of this flu, which is affecting poultry in eight Asian countries including Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Japan, Lao, South Korea, Thailand, and Vietnam.

 According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, between late 2003 and early 2004 over 100 million birds were affected by the flu. During that time, there were reports of human cases, which included deaths. Then it appeared that the flu outbreak was under control.

 Unfortunately, this was not the case. By June 2004, more countries were affected, and there were new cases in North Korea and Malaysia. As of the beginning of August, there were 57 reported deaths in humans. These deaths were among that of the 112 reported cases of the flu strain in people.

 As of right now, it is thought that human cases of the Avian flu are caused by contact with infected poultry, working surfaces that have been contaminated, or eating foods that have not been cooked fully. Transmission is not thought to be from human- to-human contact at this time. It seems the virus is also affecting pigs and felines, however. Unfortunately, we have very little immunity against this flu strain — this is especially concerning since many health experts are saying it will cause the next global health pandemic.

 But what exactly is the bird flu? It is, in short, a strain of the flu that occurs in birds. It appears that it affects poultry more so than other kinds of birds, but no type of bird is completely exempt — and the same strain of the flu has been seen in humans and pigs. According to the World Health Organization, there are 15 different subtypes of influenza virus type A, but the bird flu is only caused by two of these — H5 or H7.

 While there appears to be a large number of birds affected, thankfully the number of human cases is still relatively low. Transmission is quick between farms due to contaminated cages, feeds, water, and even the clothing of the workers. Birds can transmit the virus to each other through contact — much the same as we humans can catch colds from one another. Humans are susceptible when they come into contact with bird droppings or when they are exposed to an inhalation of the virus. The disease is spread from country to country through normal bird migration and trade practices. Again, at this time there has been no transmission between humans.

 In an effort to keep this latest flu strain under control — which is, in fact, not a new disease but one that has been around for about a hundred years — researchers are in the midst of creating a vaccine. More on those developments in tomorrow’s edition of DOCTORS HEALTH PRESS e-BULLETIN.

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